Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reading Comics - June 2009

It's been some time since I posted any comic reviews, but trust me, I've been reading away, and sure enough I have some thoughts on them.

Bone - The Complete Series
'Bone' is one of those comics that I credit for bringing me into comics. I can remember ordering back issues directly from Cartoon Books (mostly for 5th or 6th printings), and waiting almost a month for the comics to arrive at my door. I'd even buy the trade paperbacks just to have, and at the bottom of my drawers are still a couple t-shirts that I bought, and then was too embarassed to wear them.

And as time went on, and Mr. Smith changed publishers, and the release schedule became more erratic, the series disappeared from my radar, only to resurface towards the end of the complete run. Fortunately, the enormous volume that comprises the entire series makes it easy to digest the story without having to wait or switch between trade collections.

First and foremost, 'Bone' makes it clear that Jeff Smith is one of the great cartoonists working today. Even starting out, his skills were sharp and well-crafted, but as the story moves along, his line and character design become more refined and precise, but without losing that cartoon influence. And by finishing the series, Smith has given comics a tried and true epic, one that surpasses 1,000 pages, and stands up there with the likes of 'Cerebus' (an irony, I know, considering Smith's feud with Dave Sim.)

Story elements like the Great Cow Race, Fone Bone's fascination with Moby Dick, and the suspense surrounding Phoney Bone's involvement with the Hooded One and the Lord of the Locusts are sure to stand out as classics in comics literature. But I have to say, almost with some resignation, that the first half of the series stands better than the second half. This isn't to say it's bad by any means, it still is great comics storytelling, but once Phoney's involvement with the Hooded One is revealed, the story falls into its fantasy mythos, which feels borrowed rather than original. The Bone cousins become supporting characters in events that are far from their own making, and Thorn becomes a warrior princess with almost limitless powers (which apparently suck away any shred of personality). Things pick up a little bit when Phoney and Smiley go back to scheming in Atheia, but at that point the epic narrative is well under way, and this small episode becomes swallowed by something far larger.

Is 'Bone' essential? Absolutely, this a huge achievement within the realm of comics and comics literature. 'Bone' itself is a product of comics' struggle to break free from the grip of the superhero mainstream, and has definitely had a hand in the creation of the modern day 'graphic novel.' It's just a shame that the spark that initially started the whole adventure of the Bone cousins gets lost along the way.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Century: 1910
Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, and the League are back (and this time at Top Shelf Comics)! Dealing with an occult society, and the return of a serial killer to London, Mina Murray leads a new version of the League in the wake of the failed Martian Invasion from Volume 2. Among the new crew are Alan Quatermain Jr. (Alan Quatermain Sr. rejuvenated), the gender bender Orlando, the pschic Carnacki, and the reformed burglar Raffles (could the League exist without Wikipedia today?)

Since this is the first in a longer series, I feel I can only give impressions. O' Neill's art as always captures the neo-Victorian period perfectly, while at the same time developing a certain hand for parody that wasn't as evident in the earlier stories. And Moore brings his interests in the occult and the Jack the Ripper killings into the League's world, but without giving them a fitting conclusion, in this chapter at least. And as before, a sexually risque, bawdy, and sometime brutal quality permeates the story, but it's hard to say if this will have an effect on the larger story, or if it's just the after effects of Moore's 'Lost Girls.'

Above all else, it seems clear Moore is making these Victorian characters more of his own. He's less interested in planting them to their roots in the 19th century, and more inclined to see how they would have operated in the tumultuous events of the 20th century. He has a good start, and I'm eager to see where he goes.
(Writer's note: I haven't read 'Black Dossier' yet. Trust me, it's on deck.)

Jamilti, and other stories
This is my first encounter with Rutu Modan's work, and I certainly wish I had found it sooner. The stories in this collection, made between 1998-2007, reveal an artist experimenting with her craft, and developing a storyteller's voice within the comics medium. Many of the comics are made with a clean, spare line, but they're drawn with such command that they exude character. And even though the color is muted when it is used, it brings texture and depth to the stories.

While many of the stories are set within Israel, they don't deal with the many conflicts in the Middle East directly. Modan's stories are more concerned with the personal stories of her characters, and the strange, sad, and tragic events that befall them, helping them to reveal hidden strengths. This isn't to say Modan ignores the geo-political conflicts, they hover on the periphery, always waiting to intrude on the characters, whether a stolen plane flying from Lebanon ('Homecoming'), or a suicide bomber mistaken for a victim in the title story, 'Jamilti.' While something like Joe Sacco's 'Palestine' is more political in nature, examining the forces that lead people into a social and cultural stalemate, they do share a common thread, I think, in examining the repercussions of living with the knowledge of terror.

The last story in the collection, 'Your Number One Fan,' shows Modan finding her strongest voice. Using a style similar to Herge's, she tells a story about identity, loss, culture clashes, and expectations through the experiences of an Israeli musician visiting England. Both he and his 'fan' are looking for different kinds of acceptance, only to find it in the unlikely, and possibly wrong, places. It's a fitting end to the collection, and prepares us for what I'm sure is going to be a fruitful career of stories.

What's on deck:
'Crime and Punishment' by Fyodor Dostoevsky - what, you thought I only read comics?
'A Princess of Mars' by Edgar Rice Burroughs - because it's summer, and I need something to balance out the above.
'Concrete Volume 1' by Paul Chadwick
'Maakies Volume 1' by Tony Millionaire -dook dook dook dook dook dook
'T-Minus' by Jim Ottaviani, Zander Cannon, and Kevin Cannon

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Summer Commission

It's been pretty quiet here on this blog, and I apologize for that. Comics and drawings are happening, trust me, but I guess they're just not ready enough for posting.

So, I thought I would go ahead and share what will be my big summer project. A good friend in Iowa City commissioned me to create a couple paintings some time ago, and I'm now finally able to do the finished artwork for the first one. He gave me nearly complete creative control, so I was able to make something that fit my aesthetic, but also appealed to his tastes. The drawing for the first painting is below:

The subject matter is actually reminiscent of some of my older relief prints, where I would do large scenes of characters in urban settings. In this case, the time period is a bit different (late 19th/early 20th century), and in a rare instance, all of the characters are human. The final painting will be watercolor at about 17" x 35." Like I said, a summer project. I'll post process photos as the painting develops.